I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time either in or travelling through Dunfermline. It is a town I like a lot, which is just as well, really, far more than I do than Cumbernauld, say, or Glenrothes. The first time I ever went there was when I was at primary school. I was in a special needs class and near the end of term, we went on a series of Magical Mystery Tours, where the destination was a complete surprise to us. The trip to Dunfermline was less of a mystery, though, because we were in Waverley Station the previous week and the teacher nipped into the Ticket Office to buy the tickets. My abiding memory is of being in Pittencrieff Park with my classmates and sitting on the grass looking down towards the Forth Bridges. I think it was cloudy. Other visits as a kid were mainly to see Hibs play football, which I will be doing again in about a month from now.
The last time I was there specifically, not passing through, was in August. It was a nice, fairly warm day and I sat for a while under a tree in the park looking up into the canopy. I also went to one of my favourite historic places in the country, Dunfermline Abbey Nave, which was built by the same people who designed Durham Cathedral, one of my favourite places on the planet. The Abbey Nave, managed by Historic Environment Scotland, is remarkably like Durham Cathedral, right down to the chevrons on the pillars and the convex ceiling in the aisles. It is a beautiful place, usually very still and full of architectural details that usually mean I spend ages walking up and down looking up at them. The Abbey is where Robert the Bruce is buried (minus his heart) and it is a fine church. The Palace across the way isn’t so bad either with fine views across Pittencrieff Park. But the Nave is always a must whenever I’m in Dunfermline, usually once a year or so when the urge takes me to stop rather than pass by.
Living in Glasgow means I approach Dunfermline from the west now, across the Kincardine Bridge upriver from the Forth Bridge I would have crossed before from Dunbar. I posted some photos recently on Tumblr of Culross, which is a few miles west of Dunfermline and was very fine indeed, while also nearby is Alloa Tower, which I haven’t been to but may try to before Hibs play at East End Park on 22nd October. Or not so far away up the M90 is Lochleven Castle, a place I’ve been to a couple of times, which sits, naturally enough, in the centre of Loch Leven near Kinross, reached by a ferry. At the other side of the motorway is Aberdour Castle, a cracking castle near the Forth which has, amongst other things, a painted ceiling (always a plus in my book) plus the church nearby is nice too. So, my trip to watch Hibs will be accompanied by something else but I’m not quite sure what yet. It could just be a trip to the Abbey Nave but we’ll see. The Glasgow bus stops right across the road from East End Park so the homeward bit is straightforward, just what I’ll get up to before my day could be spoiled by the football.
My first thought when considering connections for a recent WordPress challenge was a John Muir quote.
‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe’.
There are a lot of places to take connections, to changing buses, trains or planes, or the links made between people or even how we intersect and coexist.
I was talking the other day about history and how often it is about finding patterns. There are seven billion people on this earth and some people say there are only seven stories that exist in fiction. To keep up the seven theme, I live at number 37, I have just turned 27 and I can’t think of another 7 for 17. Blast! Patterns exist. People are alarmingly similar and there are trends you can spot if you look hard enough. Some even use history to try to warn us off or scare us, particularly politicians. Whatever fits into a narrative, I suppose.
Sometimes we are very bad at finding connections. I seem to find it easier than many people. My conversational mode, like my writing style, is tangential. I like to pack a lot into what I do because I’m not always sure about whether I will remember it in a few minutes if I’m writing or talking or because I simply want to see as much as possible by day’s end. It’s like an hourglass, there’s only so much time. Since I don’t always spot the right moments in conversation, I try to find that moment and link to whatever has just been talked about before making my point. It’s about being relevant.
‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe’. This quote was written by John Muir and published in a book called My First Summer in the Sierra. It was published in 1911 though based on events in 1868. There are so many connections to be made. The quote is in a video in John Muir’s Birthplace in Dunbar. I used to work there and I grew up in Dunbar. Let’s take Dunbar. Another person who grew up there was Robert Wilson, who invented the screw propeller. Wilson could take you to Harold Wilson, who was a Labour Prime Minister in the 1960s and 1970s, then to either Gordon Brown, the last Labour Prime Minister or even to Theresa May, the Prime Minister now. Gordon Brown was born in Kirkcaldy, where Adam Smith was born. Our local Chinese takeaway delivery guy often wears a hoodie advertising the Adam Smith Business School at Glasgow Uni, which takes it back to me since the guy is invariably handing me food and I grew up in Dunbar. Plus I live in Glasgow, where the Uni is. Fun for all the family. To take another example, My First Summer was last published in Britain by Canongate, who also publish the works of Barack Obama, who is currently the President of the United States. One of his predecessors, Theodore Roosevelt, went camping in Yosemite with John Muir who wrote My First Summer in the Sierra. 1911 is a harder one and needs a bit more thought or research. 1911 was when My First Summer was published. It was set in California, where Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. One of his predecessors was Ronald Reagan, who was born in…1911. Sorted.
There are connections between most things, between our thoughts and actions, our organs, nerves and extremities, and much else besides, from how the weather affects bees which affects crops and plants growing which affects the food supply and in turn us. It’s hard to see the links between the various parts of the world, animal, mineral, plant, physical, metaphysical, just as they can’t always be explained either. That’s not always a bad thing, as curiosity helps us see links between what we know and what we don’t, to form new ideas and reshape old ones.
Every time I go to Dunbar, I have a bit of a routine. I head along the High Street to the Glebe then walk around the Prom and back towards the East Beach before going for the train home. I usually walk around by the Pool, along Castle Street and down the Vennel to the Beach. The last time I was there, about a month ago, I was crossing Victoria Street by the Methodist Church when I looked down the street and saw a sculpture I had never seen in my life. The sun was shining and it cast an excellent light over this sculpture of three figures carrying a creel. There wasn’t a plaque or anything to tell me anything about it but I figured out at least that it was a creel and was to do with fishing. The cat slinking around the legs of the centre figure is a nice touch, I have to say.
As it turns out, according to the Courier, it is called ‘The Creel Loaders’ and was unveiled about 6 weeks ago, produced by Gardner Molloy. This being in East Lothian, the Courier report wonderfully adds that Mr Molloy is ‘of Cockenzie’, establishing that he’s not an incomer or anything, an important distinction for many in my home county, of course. ‘The Creel Loaders’ is stunning, to be fair, a great reminder of the fishing history in Dunbar and along the coastline both north and south. When I was in St. Abbs, even more recently, there was another example of sculpture, relating to the Eyemouth fishing disaster of 1881, an event that is rightfully still remembered in Berwickshire and marked by a set of sculptures along the Berwickshire Coastal Path.
I am not always convinced by sculptures that are placed outside. I know someone who placed a stone outside on the beach then brought it in a few months later, covered in seaweed and weathered by successions of waves. That’s fine but people like Antony Gormley who put their own body in places he hasn’t got a connection with, that annoys me. When it has a direct relevance, and tells a story, that’s great and wonderful and thought-provoking. The next time I’m in Dunbar, I’ll be taking a closer look at ‘The Creel Loaders’ and thinking on the fishing history of the place over many centuries and of course still to come, even if in decreasing numbers.
On Sunday, I went on a tour of the old Victoria Infirmary, a hospital which served much of the south side of Glasgow before it closed in May 2015. It is about to be converted into flats and the new owners opened it up for tours. A lot of the fixtures and fittings have been taken away, though some still remain, including sinks, lamps, operating theatre equipment and mortuary tables. We were led around the hospital for about half an hour, through corridors and wards, and it was a strange experience, easy still to evoke the day-to-day existence of a hospital even while lacking the essential requirement of sick people, nurses and doctors. There were great views out the windows to the Infirmary’s various towers and across to Langside Library, and beyond to Castlemilk, King’s Park and the Cathkin Braes. The last part was the mortuary and that was fascinating, if chilling, to think about how people were dissected right there, folk who had expired within the hospital and others from the local area. The tour guide told us that some people who had been on earlier tours had been taking selfies on the mortuary table, which doesn’t sit well with me.
The building felt all the more interesting since it had only been closed for a year. Walking through one of the wards at the Vicky, I was more interested in the view and taking photographs. Thinking about it now, though, the thoughts of the thousands of patients who had passed through come more readily to mind, those illnesses that may be historical now but felt very real to those poor souls, the human dramas that happened within those walls, of new life and its cessation. Soon there will be new happenings there, people’s homes will be there rather than just a place to recover and convalesce. In the coming months, I look forward to watching its transformation, even if one of the shiny flats that will result will probably be out of my price range.
Another post about this rather braw signpost at the National Railway Museum in York. This time, the subject is ‘Late again, miss the train’.
I often run late. I have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning and when I don’t have to, I often lie in. Even when I can’t, I tend to do it anyway. Despite starting later two days a week, I still often cut it very fine. Plus I rely on public transport, which runs to its own schedule.
And that’s another thing. Yesterday morning, I was running late and got to the station a minute and a half before the train was due to leave and had to run for it since it was clearly about to pull out. I have noticed this particularly since Abellio took over the Scotrail franchise last year. More than once, I have missed a train because it has pulled out up to a minute before its advertised departure time. Luckily I am resourceful and live (and work) in an area incredibly well-served by public transport but I shouldn’t have to be.
There are times when I run early. It tends to be when more than one bus or train is required. I spend enough time sitting at bus stops and in train stations that I prefer to avoid it. But still it happens, particularly when I am away on a day trip. When I was in Carlisle recently, I ended up at the train station half an hour early, almost in time for the train before the one I was getting home. This, however, tends to happen at the end of the day rather than the beginning. I don’t tend to cut a dash or look terribly urbane as I sprint across train stations or along city streets. But what’s life without a hint of danger?
Craigentinny isn’t the most glamorous part of the capital. But like most places, it has charms, perhaps more hidden than others, certainly, but there are charms nonetheless. The other day, I was in Edinburgh and had the urge to walk all the way to the Craigentinny Mausoleum, which is a good mile or two out of the city centre. I had passed it many, many times, mainly on the way out to Prestongrange, where I used to work, and hadn’t stopped in a long while. So, out there I walked and came upon this huge upturned box sitting amidst bungalows and a bowling club. At either side of the mausoleum were epic Roman scenes, capped by cherubs, reliefs and much else besides. As it turned out, it was the mausoleum of a book collector and MP, William Henry Miller, who lived in Craigentinny House, across the road from the primary school. The mausoleum, or Marbles as they are known, were designed by David Rhynd with the friezes sculpted by Alfred Gatley of Rome. Apparently, the Marbles were funded by one of Miller’s relatives, Samuel Christie-Miller, hence the street they sit on is called Christiemiller Avenue. They are worth a diversion, if you’re in the area, incredibly incongruous as you survey them in the midst of a perjink street of bungalows and next door to the local bowling club.
I was out for a walk to help me think and clear my head before the exam for my OU course, which was the next day. Being in familiar surroundings meant I was distracted and in the midst of memories rather than dwelling on what I needed to know for the exam. It looks much the same today, except there are more trees. I remember when the trees were planted and we were told not to pull the saplings up. The huge field at the front of the school is pretty much all trees and the garden we used to work in to the side nearest Craigentinny Road is heavily covered by trees whereas I remember it being very light and empty. It was a strange experience and I was lost in nostalgia as I walked by the school then round the side. My last sight before I moved on was from Craigentinny Road looking back towards the school with Arthur’s Seat rising high above, not at all a bad sight.
My walk then took me through Lochend, walking past some colossal four-in-a-block houses with no doors at all noticeable until you realised the doors were all at the back. When I used to go to see Hibs as a kid, we used to park at the eastern side of the ground in Lochend and so, even without being at school nearby, I know it well. One major difference about the surroundings is as you walk towards Hawkhill Avenue and the ground just beyond. There used to be a Kingsmill bread factory there and it’s gone now, replaced by flats. Fine looking flats, incidentally. Easter Road is also different from when I was a kid. The East Stand used to be basic, bucket seats with a low roof, now it’s all modern and huge, while the West Stand used to be old, wooden and vastly inadequate, now it’s a lot sleeker and modern. The West Stand looked quite a lot like the Main Stand at Tynecastle but of course the Hearts have kept their old stand for far longer than probably sensible and the bulldozer is near.
I walked along Brunswick Road, which has also changed with new flats being built on the site of the old Royal Mail sorting office. There is an ethical society based on Brunswick Road which has recently painted a new mural outside. My feet were knackered by this point so I headed up to Ocean Terminal in Leith to sit and look out over the harbour for a bit before I went back up to the city centre to catch the train back home to Glasgow, sitting reading the paper as the train edged back westwards.
A lot of people have different ideas about Edinburgh. Hugh MacDiarmid called the city ‘a mad God’s dream’ and I think that pretty well fits. There are very glamorous bits of Edinburgh, others less so. I was born in Seafield, in the Eastern General Hospital which is now defunct. It sat next to a sewage works. Craigentinny sits in a working-class part of Edinburgh, a whole long way removed from the New Town, Bruntsfield, Comely Bank and all these posh places. I have more of an affinity to the places people don’t write about in Edinburgh. I like the Royal Mile but it’s very obvious, very touristy. The really interesting things about Edinburgh are under the surface and beyond the city centre. Craigentinny is just one of those places. It has a deep personal resonance for me, sure, but it’s more than that. I always like to quote French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro on this. ‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing’. I’m lucky because I find much of life interesting. If you don’t know Edinburgh very well, and you have the opportunity to be there, please walk a little bit beyond the city centre in any direction. Some bits I would avoid, admittedly, but in any direction, go for a walk. I sort-of slagged off Hearts earlier but right near Haymarket Station is a clock that doubles as a war memorial to those Hearts players and supporters who perished in World War I. That is a fascinating story, whether you like football or not, whether you like Hearts or not (and I really don’t). Edinburgh is a mad God’s dream, without a shadow of a doubt, with mausoleums in sleepy suburbs and much else besides, just ready to discover if you look the right way.
Coming home from London last night, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I could write about my day. Thinking about being in the British Library and the British Museum, the heatwave and managing to read four books in their entirety, I came up with just one phrase: unabashed joy.
Usually when I go to London, there is a long period beforehand when I can plan. When I get there, I invariably cram a lot into the day. This time, though, there was a much shorter timescale from deciding to go there to actually setting foot in the place. There was also the added complication that nearly made me cancel the trip. On Sunday, I read in the news that there was a heatwave forecast for yesterday with temperatures in London to reach 32 degrees Celsius. Now, I’m from the east coast of Scotland. Any sunshine we had was tempered by an ever-present wind. We didn’t have that level of heat. With the slightest degree of heat or humidity, I sweat buckets. I am hardly a male model anyway but in the heat I am invariably soaked and looking like I’ve just come out of a boiler suit. I decided to wear a T-shirt and shorts and spend as little time as possible outside. Thankfully, my train ticket was an open return so I could come north as swiftly as possible if I needed to.
The train journey down was wonderful. I sat and read pretty much all the way, managing to read two books straight through (Uniquely Human: A Different Way Of Seeing Autism by Barry M. Prizant with Tom Fields-Meyer and the script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). Particularly further south I sat and looked out of the window, waving as we passed Milton Keynes at the home of the Open University. I was listening to music and the right tunes seemed to come on at the right time – ‘Here Comes The Sun’ when the train hit Milton Keynes with its streets laid out according to the sunrise and sunset on Midsummer’s Day, and Kate Rusby’s version of ‘Village Green Appreciation Society’ as out the window we passed England’s green and pleasant land with fields, trees and canal boats sailing. I am so used to seeing hay bales in rolls on the fields so it was weird to see hay bales stacked high, so high indeed that they have crenellated battlements like a castle wall. As the train hit London, though, my dark humour came out when I saw a sign by the railway which said ‘Prepare To Meet Thy God’, to which my first thought, quite seriously, was what would David Gray be doing in London when he should be training for Hibs’ game on Saturday?
As I walked out of Euston, the heat just hit me. It was sunny and incredibly, incredibly just fuckin’ roastin’. I decided to head for the British Library and walked much slower than I normally do over the short distance along there. The BL is in a huge building that looks like a factory though it actually fits in well into the cityscape, particularly with St. Pancras Station’s spires in the background. Inside was an exhibition about punk music, which was well done with well-designed exhibition panels, archive documents and records even while I could care less about punk. I also went into the Treasures of the British Library exhibition, which I’ve seen before, but took in different things, not bothering about the handwritten Beatles lyric sheets and looking instead at the beautiful Bibles, Buddhist scrolls, Qu’rans and a letter written in 1703 by the philosopher John Locke. The letter featured a great quote that I would like to share:
‘Reading is for the improvement of the understanding. The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, for our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver and make out that knowledge to others.’
I sat for a while outside the British Library in a raised courtyard like an amphitheatre and ate lunch in a highly-prized shaded spot among quite a few others doing the same.
I walked down to the British Museum. Before I went in, I had to have my bag searched and ended up being fanned by the security guard as this was going on. Once that was over with, I headed straight for one of the finest spaces in the world, the Great Court, and did three circuits taking in the stunning pillars, glass and masses of people around me before spending the next three hours wandering around the museum, broken up only by a quick sojourn to the cafe for a sugar rush. That is a key part of my museum strategy, given I was up at 4.30am and had a long way to go, coupled with skimreading a fair bit of it and just pacing myself, taking breaks and sitting down at regular intervals as I went round. I did the usual bits I like – Lewis Chessmen, Vikings, Romans, Mesoamerica and Africa – and also found a bit I had never seen before, all about Ethopian Coptic Christianity and early Christianity in Egypt, which was fascinating. Every time I go to the BM, I always find something new that I’ve never seen before, like a mirage in the desert, and it’s why it’s always a pleasure to be there because it’s always different but always the same.
Before getting the train north I went for food and ended up eating some pasta sitting in King’s Cross Station, which has more food choices in and around it than Euston. The PA announcer at King’s Cross was Scottish – we’re taking over the world. As I walked out, I intended to take a picture of the sign for Platform 9 3/4, keeping up the Harry Potter theme after reading the play script earlier in the day. There was of course a huge queue with an American girl marshalling the hordes to get their selfies taken next to the sign toting a wand towards it in a way they really don’t in the books or the movies.
On the way home, I read two more books (the excellent memoir Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson before finishing off the also good Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From 80s Movies by Hadley Freeman) and did some writing. The 4-hour journey down in the morning had been very pleasant though being tired meant the journey home really dragged, especially since the train was stopping at every stop north of Warrington. Reading was absolutely lovely. Having been so busy for so long, I haven’t had the chance to read (or really the inclination) in ages and ages. Today, I’ve read two already and there’s another on the go (it’s about the Labour Party leadership election last year). Yesterday was just a lovely day, uncomplicated and relatively stress-free, even with being in London. I barely ventured a mile from the train station but that didn’t matter since I was in places I like and knew how to enjoy them. It was peaceful, even with the searing heat.
When people think of the river Tyne, they usually think of the one that passes through Newcastle, with its bridges. There are in fact two rivers in Britain which bear the name – the famous one and the lesser-known one which passes through East Lothian on its way to the North Sea. I know them both and travelling from here to Newcastle or parts south requires crossing both. On the train, you cross the Tyne in the village of East Linton, not so far from Dunbar, looking across the bridge to a waterfall that leads towards Preston Mill, then an hour or two later, the train passes across the other Tyne, perhaps on the High Level Bridge or else further upriver on the less handsome modern rail bridge. By road, meanwhile, involves traversing the A1 more or less throughout from Edinburgh south, the Scottish Tyne crossed near Hailes Castle and Traprain Law, the English one quite close to the Metro Centre. They could not be more different but I have affection for both.
I was talking to someone yesterday about Haddington, a town I used to work in that sits on the river Tyne, naturally enough. I was last there in January for a funeral and before I went, I had a walk along the riverside, as I had quite a few times before. I used to reflect on how much I preferred on being by the sea but being by the Tyne was not unpleasant either. Walking by a river is a different experience, depending on the river. If it is a fast-flowing river, as the Tyne isn’t most of the time, it can be quite like being by the sea, but I think the overall experience is one of just putting one foot in front of another. It just helps thoughts flow for me and so it proved so often as I walked by the Tyne.
The Tyne flows faster through East Linton, where there is a waterfall just under the bridge that leads from the Linton Hotel to the Dunbar road. Nearby is Preston Mill. It is very pretty, a red brick building with a slanted orange roof. I believe it was in Outlander at some point recently. I had a job interview to work at Preston Mill once (I didn’t get it, thankfully) and they asked me what I would do if the Mill flooded, as it does with considerable regularity. I flanneled out an answer when the only sensible one is call the fire brigade and close the bloody place. When I was last in the area, last summer, my friend and I walked across the fields from Phantassie towards Preston Mill. The views were something out of a Glasgow Boys painting, which is appropriate since Arthur Melville painted there for a while, pastoral with bright, undulating fields stretching for miles. Phantassie is also where the engineer John Rennie came from. He designed the Bell Rock lighthouse as well as the Plymouth breakwater.
Between East Linton and Haddington are Traprain Law, a hillfort that became a quarry, and Hailes Castle, which sits right on the Tyne. My last visit was just before I moved through here. I had an afternoon off and took the bus to East Linton, deliberately getting off just after the railway bridge which the top of the double decker bus missed by millimetres. I walked by the river for about 45 minutes until I reached the Castle, which shockingly I had only been to once before. It is surprisingly complete, well for a ruin, and you can explore the cellars and sit on the banking by the river for a while. I am overdue a visit to there and all of the East Lothian castles, actually, particularly Tantallon.
Every time I write about East Lothian, it quickly degenerates into an advert for the local tourist board. I like where I came from, I just don’t like it enough to live there anymore. The Tyne in East Lothian is less well-known than its counterpart in England but it is just as interesting, if not more so, with a fair whack of history over a fairly short span of 30 miles or so from the Moorfoot Hills to Belhaven. Next time you’re nearby, stop and have a wander. It’s no’ bad.
Sometimes I post something for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, sometimes I don’t. It depends on what I’m doing and the challenge. This week’s is called ‘Edge’ and looking through my photos, I’ve found an absolute cracker, taken in March 2011 on the causeway walking towards Cramond Island just to the north of Edinburgh. I’m informed that the concrete spikes that protrude at regular intervals from the Forth are anti-submarine pylons put there during the Second World War.
I used to go to Cramond a few times a year, to walk by the Forth or alternatively by the Almond. One notable occasion saw me walk through the Dalmeny Estate all the way to South Queensferry, what I thought would be a short daunder took 3 hours and left me absolutely knackered when I eventually hit SQ. I haven’t been in a long while – it’s one of those places in the capital that is less known but no less appreciated. It’s always worth a look, though.
There aren’t so many places in Scotland I haven’t been to. There are great swathes of the country I haven’t seen – I’ve not yet been to Shetland, for example, nor Stornoway, Ullapool, Assynt or Skye – but those places tend to be a bit harder to reach by public transport or in a day from Glasgow. When I do visit somewhere new, it’s usually those places which are, dare I say it, less nice than others. After all, why haven’t I been there before if it is so good?
Culross is an exception. I was there on Sunday morning, purely on a whim. It’s been on my list for years but has always been gazumped by someplace else. It’s not like it is hard to get to – Culross has a half-hourly bus service from Dunfermline, one of the best connected towns in Scotland – and I tend to be in Fife a lot, for one reason or another. There’s simply no reason why except other places jumped the queue. Anyway, when I finally got there, it was beautiful. The uninterrupted view across the Forth to the Grangemouth oil refinery is admittedly less bonny but then again there are some who like bleak industrial scenes. My main focus was on land, looking at the 16th century buildings, the cobbles and all around, wondering if I was really on the Mediterranean rather than in west Fife.
We spent an hour walking around before heading on eastwards. Being a contrary sort, I would like to be in Culross again on a winter’s day. It was a beautiful autumnal morning when I was there but I would imagine it would be lovely on a cold, bright December day when the light is precious and anxious not to be wasted.
A lot of people see Fife as a place to pass through or for a particular purpose, like golf or Deep Sea World. There are quite a few places in the Kingdom that deserve a closer look, such as Cellardyke, Crail and Culross, just to go through the C’s. I still have a few places I would like to see myself, like Kellie Castle, near Pittenweem, and Tentsmuir Forest, to name but two. There is only so much time, unfortunately, but it just takes the right day and the right whim to get there.